RinkRap spans the hockey world this week, as we explore the latest trend in high-scoring defensemen, the flying nerves of Lake State tough guy Steve Ruggiero, a potential meltdown in Grand Forks and detecting a hockey pulse within in the heart of college football country.
OFFENSE FROM DEFENSE
When St. Cloud State defenseman Jimmy Schuldt picked up an assist Saturday night against Robert Morris, he became the second NCAA defenseman in eight day to reach the century mark in career scoring, joining Quinnipiac senior Chase Priskie who hit the mark against Robert Morris a week earlier. They are currently the only two active players in triple-digit career scoring, but they represent a trend: small mobile defensemen whose playmaking vision has them playing QB on the PP.
Ferris freshman Cooper Zech (5-9, 175lbs) leads Ferris with 20 points, and Harvard junior Adam Fox (5-10, 180lbs) leads the nation with 1.25 assists per game. The stereotype of heavy-footed sluggers patrolling the blue line is as dated as wooden sticks.
“The skilled guys are now allowed to let their skill set come out,” said former Northern Michigan sniper Dallas Drake, describing new-age defensemen. “The bigger, slower guys can’t keep up.”
Drake attributes the shift to rule changes, particularly the elimination of the dreaded “clutch and grab.” The result is four-man attacks and a fan-friendly game with increased offense. “They are becoming more creative that makes the game more fun to watch.”
Although the trend is more scoring from the blue line, the gold standard for offensively gifted NCAA defensemen is from Providence wunderkind Ron Wilson, who racked up an ungodly 250 points in the mid-70s. College Hockey, Inc. provided this list of the recent members of the NCAA century club for defensemen:
- Joey LaLeggia (Denver) – 132
- Mat Bodie (Union) – 124
- Jordan Gross (Notre Dame) – 121
- Gavin Bayreuther (SLU) – 111
- Steve Weinstein (Bentley) – 104
- Will Butcher (Denver) – 103
One defenseman who is from the old school muscle genre is Lake Superior junior Steve Ruggiero, a 6-2, 220-pound man’s man who plays blood and guts in hockey’s danger zones. But when it comes to plane travel, he is more of a sensitive soul, especially when the aircraft starts rocking. “Since I was little, I never liked turbulence,” said the junior from Long Island, New York. “I don’t like the fact that if something were to happen, I can’t do anything about it — somewhat of a helpless feeling.”
His reward for helping the Lakers to their first ever Great Lakes Invitational Tournament championship? Seventeen hours of flying in three days: a round-trip to Anchorage Alaska. It prompted a Tweet for the ages.
Ruggiero and the Lakers survived the flights, collected six points in the standings and found themselves back in the national rankings. They might consider scheduling even more road games. Their record away from the Sault? An astounding 10 games over .500 (11-1)
HOW SOON THEY FORGET
On the eve of the 2016 NCAA title game between North Dakota and Quinnipiac, Jack Parker told his favorite hockey pundit Bernie Corbett that he predicted a North Dakota victory: “I always take the brand-name program.” The newly named Fighting Hawks dismantled the Bobcats 5-1, pleasing both Corbett and Parker because of the predictable order in the hockey world.
One wonders if the two BU legends are staggering now in a world spinning on an entirely new axis. Eight-time national champion North Dakota is now a .500 team that has just been swept by Canisius, a school that hasn’t been “brand-name” since the fall of the Roman Empire. It prompted loyal NoDak fans to sound off on the Internet.
God Lord... someone posted this thread on Sioux Sports. https://t.co/XyGRsJKLAl— Eric J. Burton TSD (@goon48) January 6, 2019
Firing Brad Berry — the man who coached North Dakota to the national championship three seasons ago — may seem ludicrous from this side of the Red River, but remember, the Grand Forks fan base is spoiled by dynastic results. Eric Burton, a blogger who feels the pulse of NoDak Nation, fears they may implode. “After being swept by Canisius College, North Dakota is in serious jeopardy of missing the NCAA playoffs for a second year in a row,” said Burton. “The UND fan base is in full meltdown mode.” As for firing Berry? “He’s in year one of a five-year contract that pays him $400,000. A year.”
The Grand Forks Herald’s intrepid reporter Brad Schlossman sees a glass both half full and half empty. “They’re dominating in terms of possession and shots,” said Schlossman, “But they just cannot finish. You shouldn’t lose a game where shot attempts are 93-39.” Thus, the Fighting Hawks might resemble the Fighting Sioux in terms of territorial advantage, but not on the scoreboard. And that might reflect on Brad Berry’s recruiting. Where are all the bona fide scorers? Schlossman did not hesitate: “In the NHL.”
SOUTH ON THE RISE?
The winningest NCAA team wearing helmets in Alabama this year is not in Tuscaloosa.
You have to head 150 miles north to Huntsville, where the University of Alabama in Huntsville hockey team leads the Crimson Tide football in 2019 victories, 1-0. The UAH Chargers collected points in two straight games against Ferris State last weekend, winning the Saturday night affair in overtime thanks to the heroics of junior Austin Beaulieu. Beaulieu scored the overtime thriller to cap an amazing seven minutes of hockey, which included two goals and a primary assist on the tying goal with 11 seconds remaining. “I felt I played well and had some decent chances,” said the recently anointed WCHA Forward of the Week. “I put myself in a good position and my teammates gave me a couple easy tap-ins, so I give a lot of credit to them.”
A product of Coral Springs, Florida, Beaulieu represents American hockey’s latest growth spurt in the south. Playing in the heart of SEC football country actually made sense for him when choosing his next hockey perch. “[Huntsville is] close to my home state of Florida,” he said, “which allows my family and friends to make easy trips up for our home games.” Those road trips are becoming more enjoyable, as the Chargers have amassed 10 points in their last six WCHA games, leapfrogging Anchorage and Ferris in the WCHA standings.
Author Tim Rappleye just released his latest book: Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review (Mission Point Press, 2018). He can be reached @TeeRaps.